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Trumping International Law? Implications of the 2016 US presidential election for the international legal order

Published on January 3, 2017        Author: 

Any assumptions about the implications of the 2016 US presidential election for international law are premature and tentative. There is no proper foreign policy programme against which one could evaluate the future policy of the new administration. We know from Trump’s announcements and from a foreign policy speech of 27 April 2016 that he opposes the Paris Agreement, the WTO, NAFTA, TTP and TTIP as well as the nuclear deal with Iran. Thus, political analysts immediately described the election of Trump as ‘the beginning of a new and darker global order’ and announced the end of the post-World War II order. International lawyers assume that a post-human rights agenda lies ahead. Do we finally face the end of the liberal international order and globalization more generally?

Of course, there are also other voices: those who compare a possible withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement to its non-participation in the Kyoto Protocol; those who hold that globalization is anyway inevitable; those who stress that populism in Latin America, where opposition to globalization was very strong, is in decline again; those who compare Donald Trump with Ronald Reagan; and those who count on new technologies and the young generation. If it was just for the election of Trump I would probably share the idea that his policy may only represent a temporary slump in the overall progressive development of the international legal order. However, the symbolism of Trump’s election is not an isolated incident but fits into a more general pattern. Certain phenomena indicate that we currently observe a crisis of international law of unusual proportions which requires us to reassess the state and role of law in the global order Read the rest of this entry…

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What Will a Trump Administration Mean for International Agreements with the United States?

Published on December 13, 2016        Author: 

On 20 January 2017, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. During the campaign, he spoke often about terminating landmark international agreements concluded by the Obama administration, including the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Iran nuclear deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the normalization of relations with Cuba. Predicting what might actually happen in a Trump administration is difficult, because his statements as a private citizen, candidate and president-elect have been inconsistent. Should he wish to follow through on the campaign rhetoric to take immediate action on these issues, what can the president actually do unilaterally? Decisions to terminate these agreements raise questions under both international and domestic law. The United States is bound under international law when it becomes a party to an international agreement, and also has some limited obligations upon signature. Under US constitutional law, the presidency is at its most independent and powerful in dealing with foreign relations. While that power is not unlimited, soon-to-be President Trump could arguably fulfil all of those campaign promises without violating domestic or international law.

Paris Agreement on Climate Change

On 3 September 2016, the United States ratified the Paris Agreement on climate change which entered into force on 4 November 2016. The agreement was concluded under the auspices of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (“UNFCCC”) which was ratified by the United States in 1992 and entered into force in 1994. The Paris Agreement establishes no binding financial commitments or emissions targets. The states party are bound only to formulate and publish national plans for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to hold the increase in the global average temperature to “well below” 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to reduce the increase to 1.5°C. The United States is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, and its participation in the Paris Agreement was critical to bringing other states, particularly China, on board. Read the rest of this entry…

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On the Paris Agreement’s Imminent Entry Into Force (Part II of II)

Published on October 12, 2016        Author: 

This is Part II of a two-part post.

What are the Consequences of the Paris Agreement’s Entering into Force?

The Paris Agreement is to enter into force on 4 November 2016, 30 days after the second of its two thresholds was passed on 5 October 2016. On that day, the emissions covered by those Parties to the Convention that ratified or accepted the Agreement amounted to 56.75% of global total emissions; crossing the 55% bar required by the agreement. (see Part I)

So, what does this mean? I would like to highlight 10 points.

First of all, the Agreement becomes international law. It is an international treaty, i.e. an international agreement concluded between states in written form and will be governed by international law (Art. 2.1 (a) Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties – VCLT).

While 197 Parties to the UNFCCC adopted the Paris Agreement and 191 signed it so far, it is important to note that it will only bind those 74 states and the EU (as of 7 October 2016) which have expressed their consent to be bound by it through ratification, acceptance or approval. Each of these states for which the Agreement is in force will then become a “Party” to the Agreement. This means that despite the commonly used adage, it is not a universal agreement. Rather, at the time of entry into force, it captures only about 2/5 of the Parties to the Convention, with others hopefully joining over time.

According to the principle of “pacta sunt servanda”, Parties are obliged to keep the treaty and must perform it in good faith (VCLT, Article 26). Good faith suggests that Parties need to take the necessary steps to comply with the object and purpose of the treaty. Neither can Parties invoke restrictions imposed by domestic law as reason for not complying with their treaty obligations. Read the rest of this entry…

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On the Paris Agreement’s Imminent Entry Into Force (Part I of II)

Published on October 11, 2016        Author: 

This is Part I of a two-part post.

Rapid Entry Into Force or the “Rush to Ratify”

The Paris Agreement will enter into force on 4 November 2016. The agreement requires the deposition of instruments of ratification or acceptance by at least 55 Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change accounting for at least 55% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With the latest ratifications by the EU, Canada and New Zealand respectively – only a couple of days after India deposited its instrument of ratification – these conditions were fulfilled yesterday, on 5 October 2016. By that day, 72 Parties to the Convention had deposited their instruments accounting in total for 56,75 % of total global greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement will enter into force 30 days from this day – less than a year since its adoption!

Such rapid entry into force arguably is record-breaking; unparalleled in multilateral treaty making – environmental or not.

The adoption of Paris Agreement in December 2015 was hailed as a victory of multilateralism; as a sign of hope that the states of this world can get together and cooperate in the face of a global commons challenge. Yet, in Paris negotiators were in the dark about how long it would take before the agreement would become law; an international treaty. Certainly no-one expected this to happen within less than a year or only a little over six months since it was opened for signature on 22 April 2016 in New York.

It was no small achievement that states managed to reach an agreement on such complex issue as climate change. Yet, garnering their political will behind its legal bindingness is a significant feat which calls for some reflection.

How was it possible? Read the rest of this entry…

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One Swallow Does Not a Summer Make, but Might the Paris Agreement on Climate Change a Better Future Create?

Published on July 25, 2016        Author: 

Note from Joseph Weiler, Editor-in-Chief of the European Journal of International Law:

I have invited Laurence Boisson de Chazournes, member of the EJIL Editorial Board, to write the Editorial for the latest issue of EJIL (Vol. 27 (2016) No. 2).

The Conference of the Parties in Paris in December 2015, with the subsequent adoption of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, was a significant event, from both a political and a legal perspective. It is politically significant not least because it is the first universal agreement on climate change, involving 195 countries and the EU, to be adopted. However, the event was also legally significant for a host of reasons upon which this Editorial will touch. Overall, it represents an evolution in legal technique, especially with regard to the measures and procedures used to achieve the intended objective. Legal events like this are noteworthy in the way that they introduce innovations and provoke reflection.

The Paris Agreement is indeed an interesting legal creature. In trying to shape a better future than is foreseeable, if present consumption patterns of fossil fuels continue, the Agreement adopts a legal technique that breaks new ground. It envisages the elimination of the use of fossil fuel energy by the end of the 21st century. This would be quite an achievement, given that fossil fuel energy has shaped the economy of the 20th century in so many different ways. The Agreement is intended to come into force in 2020, and the objective it sets is to be achieved in the second part of this century, which is indeed several decades from now. It goes without saying that a great number of us will no longer be here when the goals of the Agreement are to be realized, and we are thus being asked to act for the generations to come. Interestingly, in addition to building a long-term future, the Agreement makes provision for meetings, as well as for tasks to be achieved at these meetings, in the near future. Some of these meetings will take place in 2018, 2023, 2025 and thereafter. The path to the longer-term objective is thus paved with the fulfilment of shorter-term commitments. Read the rest of this entry…

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Filed under: Climate Change, Editorials, EJIL
 
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Shipping and climate change: the IMO is making progress – though worryingly slowly

Published on May 3, 2016        Author: 

The Paris Agreement, which was adopted in the UN Climate Change Conference in December 2016 in Paris, does not include aviation and shipping in its regulatory framework. Acknowledging the global and complex nature of shipping activities, the Kyoto Protocol entrusted the reduction of GHG emission from marine bunker fuels to the International Maritime Organisation (article 2 (2)). One of the purposes of the IMO is to ‘encourage and facilitate the general adoption of the highest practicable standards in matters concerning the … prevention and control of marine pollution from ships’ (article 1 (a) of the IMO Convention), and its Marine Environment Protection Committee (MEPC) has the task of negotiating, adopting and amending international conventions, regulations and measures related to the protection of the marine environment. Since 1997, the MEPC has been actively engaged in discussions concerning the reduction of GHG emissions from ships and the elaboration of a legal framework for energy efficiency in the shipping industry as a means of tackling climate change. The IMO has adopted a number of measures to address these issues, but progress has been slow.

Despite encouragement from the former IMO Secretary General to ‘bring the spirit of the Paris Agreement to IMO’ and by the UN Secretary General to continue the momentum of the Paris Agreement, the response in the MEPC in its 69th Session which took place from 18-22 April 2016 was less enthusiastic, though some progress was made. This post discusses the recent discussions and negotiations in the IMO MEPC with respect to reduction of emissions from ships.   Read the rest of this entry…

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The power of 2°C: towards a new paradigm of international lawmaking?

Published on February 25, 2016        Author: 

The outcomes of the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) — the Paris Agreement — is widely lauded as a ‘historic’ achievement. It is still up for debate whether the new Agreement will really become a historical turning point that can lead us to a carbon neutral future, as some scientists criticised its empty promises and insufficient actions. However, one implication of the Paris Agreement is clearly ‘historic’ and should be celebrated — it is the most important international treaty adopted in the recent decade, agreed by 195 countries. Despite stagnation in international lawmaking observed by Pauwelyn, Wessel and Wouters (2014), the Paris Agreement under the UNFCCC shows that reaching a multilateral agreement is still possible. In addition to Prof Jorge Viñuales’ recent analysis, in this post I would like to discuss a key factor that makes the Paris Agreement ‘special’, i.e. a strong link between climate talks and numerical standards.

One shining star of the COP21 talks was the so-called 2-degree target — in order to prevent dangerous climate change, global mean temperature should not rise 2 Celsius degrees above preindustrial levels. The target was first recognised by the European Union (EU) in 1996 and has gradually proliferated into political debates and the public sphere (see Randall’s widely cited article for the history of the target). Now 2°C is literally everywhere in the news; CNN even has a special column called two degrees. One well-known achievement of the Paris Agreement is that not only it stresses the importance of keeping global warming ‘well below 2 °C’, but also pledges to ‘pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C’ (Article 2(1)(a) of the Agreement). 2°C has undoubtedly become the symbol of climate negotiations, and moving from 2 to 1.5 °C is considered by many as a major triumph.

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The Paris Agreement: A Rejoinder

Published on February 16, 2016        Author: 

In his analysis of the recently adopted Paris Agreement, Professor Jorge Viñuales shed light on the main features of this new treaty. He concludes that, while the Agreement is not perfect, it is certainly ‘more than many of those who have followed the climate negotiations over the years realistically expected.’ I cannot but agree with this assessment: the Paris Agreement is probably the best that could be achieved at this place and time and, given the premises, its adoption as a treaty last December was almost miraculous. This post expands upon a couple of points raised in his analysis, focusing on the legal form of the Paris Agreement, its relationship with the UNFCCC and on the nature of obligations concerning the review of parties’ commitments.

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The Paris Climate Agreement: An Initial Examination (Part III of III)

Published on February 8, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note: This is the last post in a series (see Part I and Part II) featuring Professor Jorge Viñuales’ analysis of the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement. Professor Viñuales is the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law and the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

Implementation techniques

The main innovation of the Paris Agreement lies in its implementation techniques and, particularly, the ‘enhanced transparency framework for action and support’ established by Article 13. This mechanism, the first of its kind in global environmental governance, is the embodiment of the approach, followed since the launching of the ADP in 2011, according to which emission targets would be set domestically and measuring, reporting and verification (MRV) would be organised at the international level. It is, of course, not the only technique, as the Agreement also contemplates many others. For analytical purposes, I will make a distinction between information-based techniques, facilitative techniques and the management of non-compliance.

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The Paris Climate Agreement: An Initial Examination (Part II of III)

Published on February 8, 2016        Author: 

Editor’s Note:  This is the second in a series of three posts that continues Professor Jorge Viñuales’ analysis of the landmark December 2015 Paris Agreement.  Professor Viñuales is the Harold Samuel Professor of Law and Environmental Policy at the University of Cambridge Faculty of Law and the Director of the Cambridge Centre for Environment, Energy, and Natural Resource Governance (C-EENRG).

In yesterday’s post, I examined the context leading to the Paris Agreement, its basic legal structure and goals. ‘The Paris Agreement is appended as an Annex to the ‘Adoption of the Paris Agreement’, Draft Decision -/CP.21, 12 December 2015, FCCC/CP/2015/L.9 (‘Decision’). Today’s post proceeds to scrutinize the Agreement’s three main action areas.  Tomorrow’s final post discusses the implementation techniques applicable in the Agreement, and offers concluding observations.

Action areas

The Paris Agreement sets three main action areas, two of which – mitigation (Articles 3-6) and adaptation (Article 7) – are given particular weight, whereas the third – loss and damage (Article 8) – is more circumscribed, and perhaps even confined within narrow bounds.

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